After all the tiara-making fun at the launch of the first Rescue Princesses book, my children began an even more exciting craft activity. They took their dolls and began to turn them into Rescue Princesses, even adding every detail of the dresses and the jewelled rings. It was exciting for me to see it. With a snip of tissue paper here and a dash of shiny card there, my characters were coming alive!
They also made two-dimensional dolls out of Hama beads. The Hama bead template meant that there wasn’t a lot of scope for characterisation, but they did their best with hair, skin and dress colour to replicate the four first princesess in the series.
Hama bead princesses
The children then made the dolls and Hama bead creations talk to one other and they invented adventures for them too. They’ve loved playing with princesses and playing at being princesses for years.
I began to wonder what children liked most about characters. Do they prefer a character that’s just like them? Or do they like characters to be different from them – perhaps an aspirational figure? It’s certainly true that, having talked to girls at recent Rescue Princesses events – like this one – many of them said that the princess that resembled them most physically was the one they liked best… before they’d read the book. Physical resemblance was a “way in” to the story.
But after I talked to children who had finished reading the first book, The Secret Promise, the feedback from them began to change. Many of them loved Princess Emily with her long curly red hair, whether they they had curly red hair or not. Well, she is the main character of the story and I did try to make her likeable. Many chose other characters too. One (white) girl told me how much she loved Lulu, “because she’s so adventurous”. Children reading a story love to imagine themselves as characters that can do or say things that they would never dare to. I like to think of this as the Tracy Beaker effect, after that strong-willed girl invented by Jacqueline Wilson.
When they were judging a book by its cover, they chose princesses who looked like them, but, after they’d read the stories, they were more open to identifying with princesses who didn’t look like them.
As to why they were willing to identify with a princess in the first place… well, that’s an interesting question. To be a princess is to be important (but not always powerful) and also to have a life of escapist luxury and privilege, with all the accoutrements of royalty – ballgowns and jewels. Princesses are special.
But when I wrote Rescue Princesses, I wanted to create characters who were not just special, not just well-dressed, but who were brave, kind, clever, determined and adventurous, and who were active, not passive.
They get to have their royal cake and eat it, and the reader gets to do that with them too!